Featured Dame Joan Sutherland Fund Recipient- Persia Blue Toll
Friday, December 16, 2016
Who are you as an artist?
I am an artist who loves theatre. Theatre is real, it is immediate, it is honest. I am an artist thats works to create theatre that brings people together, to experience a moment in time with one another, to connect.
I have always believed that theatre has the ability to affect positive change in our society. The telling of stories, the bringing together of people, and the connecting of performer and audience, all combine to stimulate real and positive change in the way we as audiences, performers and people view the world. Theatre is about community.
Good Art, good theatre, gives the audience courage. Courage to discover new thought, to allow ourselves the freedom to feel, to see different points of view, different possibilities, to see our differences, to question ourselves, to grow. It is a unifying experience, it is visceral, it is cathartic.
All one needs to create this type of theatre is strong acting, bold choices, stories with purpose and relevance, created for today's audience, told in innovative and diverse ways by innovative and imaginative people.
Great artists are not made- they evolve.
Training is an essential and central component of a performing artist’s lifestyle, not just their education. A balance between learning, doing and teaching is critical for my life as a performing artist. Through the exploration of different acting methods and techniques, I continue to expand my knowledge and strengthen my abilities as an actor.
The art of the theater rests upon the art of the actor.
My current artistic practice: It is important to be open to different working methods and practices. Each role and production is different, requiring its own unique process. Finding, creating and exploring that practice, is much of the joy of what I do. My commitment to ongoing education and training is imperative while working in the theatre industry.
Imparting new techniques, ideas, and different methods of storytelling is how my practice contributes to our theatre industry. While the routines may vary, core ingredients remain constant. What I want to accomplish is fundamental: to do justice to stories we tell through emotional honesty and imagination. What interests me is exploration, honest connection, a holistic approach to theatre through international cultural exchange. I am interested in work that challenges. I want to make a positive contribution to my community, I choose to do this through art, through the magic that is theatre.
What prompted you to come to the US?
The type of physical theatre training I wish to explore is not currently available in my country. The American arts community is so incredibly diverse, with a long history and culture of “non-traditional” artistic practices, a unique and open view of story telling and the creation of new work. It has a culture of international collaboration with other diverse performing arts communities. The Suzuki Method of actor training and the Viewpoints Technique are the two core training components that the American based theatre company In The Water use everyday in the benefit of their art. Both techniques are alternatives to the Stanislavsky-Based Method training which dominates the Australian theatre practice.
There is a deficit in current Australian theatre practice. The working methods are predominately cerebral (and very self focused) working from (and sometimes staying in) the internal. I want to integrate another approach, a practice that is about working with the external (the physical body/movement based) and into the internal. The blending of these 2 approaches will create stronger performers, performances and therefore a stronger theatre culture. We can work from the inside out AND the outside- in.
These two physical theatre practices, like many non-traditional story-telling methods, are not widely known in Australia. These physical practices would add to and benefit traditional Australian theatre training and performance. Therefore Australian artists have seek them out and bring these beautiful physical practices back and into our artistic community.
I wish to learn and grow through different cultural practices and with actors from different artistic backgrounds. The United States is the perfect melting pot for artistic growth and collaboration.
What did your course/project involve?
Two months of intense training, research, collaboration, creative development, and performance.
As one of the artists selected for the 2016 ensemble for the ITW Block Island Residency, I trained daily in The Suzuki Method of Actor Training (a Japanese physical theatre practice), The Viewpoints technique, Forms, Kalaripayyattu, Movement Improvisation, Yoga, Voice and Speech, Composition and Creating.
My work included composition, the creation of new works, traditional play rehearsal, adapting material from other disciplines for the stage, dramaturgy, script analysis, the study of the history of theatre theories from many traditions and from other approaches and disciplines, I pursed independent research and writing, script development and the development of new modes of story-telling.
In the afternoons I created and rehearsed a new theatre piece entitled BACCHIC. This new work was performed in Boston, Philadelphia and New York City during October 2016.
What were the highlights of your experience?
The program was taught by ITWCompany members but it also include specially arranged classes with guest artists. These artists shared ITW’s values and commitment to theatre making in both similar and contrapuntal ways. The collaboration between the ITW ensemble members and the individual guest artists and guest theatre companies was such a highlight for me. Through working together, we were all able to offer unique perspectives. I believe these practices and collaborations make a significant contribution to our cultural diversity and ultimately for the cross-pollination of artistic communities.
Where did you find inspiration?
I found a wealth of inspiration in the other artists I was working with during the residency and their different ways of looking at the world. The environment in which we were working provided a lot of inspiration. Block Island is a rich mix of green park land, lakes, sandy Bluffs, the sea, local community and family farms. There is a lot of space and fresh air for the artists that come up to create work. Through my research I found unexpected inspiration from new found artistic practices, essays, plays and interviews. The new friendships that were formed were a great source of motivation for myself as well as the whole company.
What will you take away from this experience?
I had such an incredible experience being part of the 2016 ITW Block Island Residency.
I learnt and grew through different cultural practices and with actors from many different artistic backgrounds. I gained an immense and invaluable amount of knowledge and experience as an Australian performer through this training, collaboration and performance that will stay with me throughout my career.
I will utilize the skills I have learnt in America and integrate them into my practice back home. I will continue their exploration and grow this method by actively using it in my work and the work I do with others.
The Suzuki method of actor training and Viewpoints technique have directly strengthened my personal practice. I am now able to offer both methods as alternatives to the Stanislavsky-Based Method which dominates the Australian stage.
This new knowledge and experience will strengthen the future work I am involved in and therefore allow me to make a greater contribution to the theatre industry. These physical practices will add to and benefit traditional theatre training and performance by enabling new methods of expression for the performing arts community.
What is your favorite piece of work that resulted from this experience?
Bacchic is a play that was born out of the training and collaboration over the 2 months of the ITW residency.
Bacchic is an exploration of the relationship between community and Alcohol. Comprised of adaptations of The Bacchae and Emile Zola’s L’Assommoir, this new piece opens up a conversation about the way in which alcohol affects our lives both positively and negatively.
The two source texts have opposing statements on the nature of alcohol's influence on society. In, The Bacchae, Euripides explores the potential for transcendence through inebriation and the liberation that it can provide in the right quantities. Zola, in contrast, paints a picture of the poorer classes being thrown into complete ruin due to their excessive consumption.
Our piece is rooted in the relationship between Alcohol/Inebriation and Community. We delved deeply into the source texts while also investigating our own experiences concerning Alcohol, Consumption, and Excess.
What are you currently working on?
I met some incredible artists through this project and plan to develop new work with them in the future, both with In the Water theatre Company (USA) and the Vestel Scenkonst theatre company (Sweden). In the beginning of 2017 I will start a new collaboration with Vestel Scenkonst in the form of the creation of a new piece of theatre. This up coming project was born through the ITW block Island Residency and the company’s commitment to nurturing international collaboration, providing time, space, and opportunity for artists to collaborate and create lasting relationships.
What is your vision for the future?
Put simply, I want to spend my life telling stories and inspiring others to do so. I believe that we never stop learning and growing, nor should we.
I am committed to making work through diverse methods, that is devoted to diverse audiences. Through the creation of new work, culturally diverse collaborations and continued education I will build international relationships between artists, theatre companies and artistic communities, which will benefit my career and the careers of others.
Having had worked with, and will continue to work in the field of Theatre in Education. I believe to grow our theatre culture, we need to expose younger generations to theatre earlier than we do at present. This can be accomplished through increased T.I.E (theatre in education), working with young children and school students in different communities to give them a better understanding of theatre and magic of telling stories.
I have worked with many TIE programs, taking Shakespeare into high schools, introduction to poetry, etc. I fell in love with the experience of bringing theatre into the classroom, as I believe everyone should have the opportunity to access theatre, regardless of circumstances. Through T.I.E, hard work, free public demonstrations, classes, workshops and performances, I hope to empower children by giving them tools to be able to express themselves and tell their own stories in their own ways. This holistic approach will grow a new generation of story tellers. My goal is to contribute to this growth throughout my career.
In 2017, I will be studying the art of the Buffon in France for one month under the direction of french clown master Philippe Gualier. It is my intension to use this training in my up coming community work. I intend to work with non for profit programs such as Clowns without boarders as a performer and workshop teacher. I am interested in other forms of physical expression and wish to over the next 5 years pursue independent research and study in Butoh and Kabuki (Japanese physical theatre forms).
What advice would you give other artists aspiring to come to the US?
Recognizing that an extraordinary experience lies ahead of you, bring your courage and commitment to your international project. Come prepared to examine and broaden your skills. Bring your body, heart, and mind in good condition and ready to encounter the demands of the future.
Really think about how you will document, present and share your project. Over the duration of your project document everything! The seeds of what will become strong artistic relationships, practices, knowledge and culturally diverse partnerships. Strong documentation will give you a frame work to go back and analysis, measure and show performance and progression. It is a healthy method of self assessment. (Finding positive methods of self assessment is a skill which I feel needs to be instilled in more artists).
Think about how your work can help the next person following. How can it promote knowledge and diversity amongst the artists. How can you positively contribute to the cross pollination of artistic practices and communities.
Remember that good Art and good art-makers transcend cultural and linguist barriers by not seeing them as barriers but by seeing these differences as new and exciting ways to engage, learn, and grow.
Value hard work in yourself and in others. Grow a strong awareness, be honest and open with people about your needs, be aware of other peoples needs, help who ever, however and when ever you can. Nurture and create communities. Great art isn’t made in isolation.